Fall Pasture Management
Pasture management is a common topic on Beyond Agronomy, but that is because it is so important to maintain productivity, forage quality and lifespan of your stand. Fall management can be what makes or breaks your pasture going into the winter.
The amount of stubble remaining after grazing is critical year-round and overgrazing can be caustic to the stand itself as well as forage quality. The fall is no exception. Grasses should be grazed or cut o shorter than 3-4 inches going into the fall or winter. Leaving more residue in the fall allows for quicker regrowth in the spring. Grazing below the recommended height would not leave enough surface area for plants to begin growing in spring and could cause winter kill. Conversely, leaving too much above ground growth that will not be grazed of the winter can have negative effects. When snow falls on “too tall” grass, it can cause the structure to collapse and create an environment with little air movement for snow mold to develop. During a winter with little snow cover, grass with too much top growth can readily have moisture wicked out of the plant. While avoiding both extremes of too tall and too short, you might leave grass stubbles at different heights in different paddocks. This would be for areas you are not stockpiling and will based on how you want the operation’s grazing wedge to be set up the following spring.
Late Fall-Winter Grazing
Speaking of stockpiling, how do you begin stockpiling for winter and fall feed? This begins with planning ahead. If you are not adding fall soil amendments, mainly nitrogen, desired paddocks should begin stockpiling rest at the beginning of August (this will vary based on region). When soil amendments like nitrogen are added, stockpiling rest should begin mid-August no ensure that burst of growth does not get too tall going into late fall and winter. Once your forage is stockpiled you can rotate through it making sure to still leave adequate stubble height.
Fall can be a good time for adding soil amendments to correct or increase anything that your soil tests tell you. If your pasture does need any fertility improvements, these additions can help build root reserves of your grasses preparing them for winter. Manure is safe to be applied in appropriate amounts once plants are dormant. Key word is “dormant.” Barenburg warns that “applying manure on green, non-dormant grass might stimulate growth, causing winter injury” to that new growth during the winter. Keep in mind that in pastures that include legumes, addition of nitrogen can be less of a concern. The legumes will release their fixed nitrogen as some of their top growth is breaking down over the winter. As always, ensure weather and field conditions are correct for making these amendments.
Protect your pastures like the investment they are this fall!